Shilling alert: Over at The New Ledger, fellow USNI contributor Craig Hooper and myself have a new piece advocating for the creation of a second Great White Fleet.

The United States can do anything, but it cannot do everything. With our attention and resources already committed near capacity around the globe, the U.S. needs strong partnerships to build a more resilient, secure world. A new Great White Fleet is an opportunity to build the relationships we need to face the threats of the coming decades. Describing the original Great White Fleet before its departure, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Robley Evans proclaimed that “we are ready at the drop of a hat for a feast, a frolic, or a fight”. In the 21st century, the world knows America can fight. It is time we remind the world we can feast and frolic as well.

Check it out.

In the last week there has been a fair bit online like Chris’s post below about what is being done with the Navy-USMC team now, and elsewhere about what is coming to help with the humanitarian effort in Pakistan. Soft power is a popular topic.

The Department of Defense announced Aug. 13 the deployment of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (KSG ARG) and 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (26th MEU).

The combined Navy and Marine Corps team will leave later this month to bring significant heavy- and medium-lift aircraft and other assets to support flood relief efforts in Pakistan. The Kearsarge ARG/26th MEU’s capabilities will allow sailors and Marines to provide food, water, transportation, and other support, in partnership with the Pakistani military, to those in need.

The group is expected to arrive in the Arabian Sea in late September.

It will be at least six weeks, at the earliest, until initial effects are seen on the ground, so let’s speak to each other as adults.

This effort has everything to do about INFO OPS and STRATCOM, and little about a meaningful contribution to saving lives. That is fine – the argument can be made that this may save lives down the road through impact on the human terrain; but that is an argument, not a fact.

Some people will be helped – but within a standard deviation of the lives that the medical facilities, food, and supplies brought with the ARG could save if it helped on any standard day in Pakistan. Those who have been to AfPac know that even on a good day there is a humanitarian problem that needs what the USN-USMC can bring over the horizon.

Also remember that Pakistan is an incredibly poor country of ~175 million souls. For the rest of the life of our republic, every ARG/MEU deployment could go to the coast of Pakistan, and every day you could read, “... civilians from the town of XXXX are gathered inside a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter which has come to deliver humanitarian assistance and pick up victims …

A nation could go broke and a military worn out attempting to fix what cannot be fixed in any sustainable way by an ARG/MEU.

That stated, the ability to conduct humanitarian assistance has a long and honorable history in the US military and has its place. Taking six-weeks to help people suffering from water-born disease and lack of medical care is a long time to “help” save lives. Most who are in danger of dying now will be dead by the time the ARG/MEU gets there. On the extreme margins, we can help a few – but is that “our” job to save every soul in danger across the world? A Pakistani whose village is much better off than the homeless refugees of Darfur who are walking among the uncounted dead. Where, and at what cost-point, do you say, “enough.” When do the actions of a Republic start to look like the duties of an Empire?

If we are to do this, then we should do it better. More pre-positioned capabilities would be nice – so would strategic lift capable LTA assets (don’t laugh at Lighter-Than-Air when it comes to moving more tonnage than a C-17, faster than a ship, deliverable almost anywhere in a permissive environment). We don’t have that asset because like Command Ships, they aren’t sexy and therefor don’t get funded – so we have what we have.

There is a more fundamental question though. Do we want to be able to do this within means and capabilities – which is what we are doing now – or as a primary mission area? If you want to make it a PMA, then you will need to fund it. Cost it out and tell me what you will trade to be able to do this …. and then make the argument of the actual good you will derive from it.

Remember, at best – this helps the INFO OPS/Strategic Messaging efforts. We are talking about Pakistan. The delta in lives saved vs. the control sample is not that great. Just know that you are not doing “good” here – you are at best trying to buy good will – but really, how much good will?

The counter argument – and one made coldly – has two parts:
– This is like watering the desert. You can pour gallons on water on the desert – but if you don’t continue to do it on a regular basis, you soon end up where you started. No green shoots; just sand and lost money.
– How much good will did our efforts in Somalia in the early ’90s or the Pakistani earthquake half a decade ago accrue? How is that working for us?

It is not a mature intellectual exercise to do things with blood and treasure just to make ourselves feel good. Theory is just that – theory – without metrics to back it up. Given the spotty track record of these things in the last couple of decades – and in a period where we must learn to be careful with our funding – besides nice photo-ops and feeling good about ourselves, what are we getting for our effort?

For years, there has been one constant challenge for United States and coalition military operations in Afghanistan: insufficient rotary wing aircraft. Rotary assets ferry supplies, carry soldiers, and provide air support all over the country. Put bluntly, helicopters are the coin-of-the-realm: the more you have, the more you can do. And we do not have enough.

There has been numerous attempts to rectify the dearth of rotary assets, including some rather shady ones. However, helicopters still remain one of the most needed military resources in Afghanistan.

In response to the deadly flooding in Pakistan, the Pakistani military reassigned some helicopters from combat operations to disaster relief. For its part, the US military provided six helicopters to the relief efforts, however it kept the bulk of its rotary wing assets in Afghanistan:

“It’s a question of risk mitigation,” the official said. “Helicopter lift is critical to the mission” in Afghanistan, where road transport is difficult and dangerous, he said. “It’s not like we have a great surplus of helicopters in theater that are not engaging.”

This answer has satisfied neither the Pakistanis or some pundits:

It would also be absurd to say that we can’t afford to divert resources from the war to emergency flood relief, when much of the story told on behalf of the war is 1) all about “winning hearts and minds” and 2) all about Pakistan; and when the press is reporting that Islamist militants in Pakistan are cleaning our clocks in the battle for flood relief.

However, it looks like the Marines are coming to the rescue. Today it was announced that USS Peleliu is waiting in international waters off the coast of Karachi with 19 Marine helicopters available for disaster relief missions. These aircraft will allow the six US helicopters mentioned above to return to combat operations.

This week’s row over the allocation of helicopters highlights a greater and largely undiscussed issue. In a world of finite resources, when the needs of hard power and soft power conflict over an asset, which takes priority?

The answer is not as straightforward as you think. Department Of Defense Instruction 6000.16 states:

“It is DoD policy that: a. MSOs [editor: Medical Stability Operations] are a core U.S. military mission that the DoD Military Health System (MHS) shall be prepared to conduct throughout all phases of conflict and across the range of military operations, including in combat and non-combat environments. MSOs shall be given priority comparable to combat operations and be explicitly addressed and integrated across all MHS activities including doctrine, organization, training, education, exercises, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and planning in accordance with Reference (b).” [Emphasis: Mine] (Department Of Defense 6000.16, 1)

Thus, under 6000.16, in at least one part of the US military, soft power should be given the same access to resources as hard power operations. The reality is that the allocation of resources must be a compromise between soft and hard power roles, balancing the benefits of having a resource in one role with the costs of lacking a resource in another. That is the very essence of strategy.

Editor’s note: I published the wrong version of this post for a few minutes. All fixed now. Apologies from my end.

Posted by Christopher Albon in Navy | 4 Comments

Against future irregular threats, cooperation is the name of the game. This is the message of a new Navy Vision [pdf] signed off by chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead in January. The Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower highlights the unique position of the US Navy to “leverage access to the maritime domain and cooperate with partner navies and security forces to dissuade, deter, and defeat irregular threats at sea and ashore”. Specifically, the Vision argues for confronting irregular challenges with:

  1. “Increased effectiveness in stabilizing and strengthening regions, by securing and leveraging the maritime domain, with and in support of national and international partners.”
  2. “Enhanced regional awareness of activities and dynamics to include a deeper understanding of ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic characteristics and norms.”
  3. “Increased regional partner capacity for maritime security and domain awareness.”
  4. “Expanded coordination and interoperability with joint, interagency, and international partners.”

These objectives are spot on and follow my own thinking. However, probably the most important point is buried in the middle of the paragraph on the last page:

“[The Vision] recognizes the value of presence, of “being there,” to maintain adequate levels of security and awareness across the maritime domain, and restrain the destabilizing activities of non-state actors”.

Discussions of grand strategy and national security so often devolve into debates over hard power. Yet, however unsexy, the most powerful weapon is most often found in allies and relationships. Using the US military to train Brazilian medics or rebuild Nicaraguan health clinics is not about humanitarianism, it is about making friends and making friends stronger. In the domain of irregular threats, knowing whom to call can be more powerful than any weapon system. Call it Rolodex power, and more than any other branch, the Navy’s got it.

Crossposted on Conflict Health.

Chilean airmen examine a U.S. Air Force unmanned aerial system Oct. 29 at Quintero Air Base, Chile during an information exchange for Operation Southern Partner.

Chilean airmen examine a U.S. Air Force unmanned aerial system at Quintero Air Base, Chile during an information exchange for Operation Southern Partner.

3 out of a 3-part series. 

Today, USNI Blog concludes its interview with Lt. Gen. Seip.

Q: What are the costs of ignoring Soft Power?

Seip: Great question – and that’s the case AFSOUTH (and many other commands) have to make when proposing new initiatives or funding requests. The future costs of inaction can be quite high. Soft Power done correctly goes a long way towards keeping US forces out of a future Iraq or Afghanistan fight. Soft Power can also assist partner nations in seeking regional solutions to common issues before these problems grow in magnitude and evolve into a ‘must-act’ crisis.

One example is the Regional Aircraft Modernization Program. In short, RAMP is an initiative to assist Central American nations in recapitalizing aging aircraft fleets. Budgets, manpower and significant ongoing costs can quickly make these types of purchases out of reach for some of these militaries. By regionalizing the solution, participants are able to work together to pool their resources and purchase helicopters, airlifters and multi-role aircraft.

Maintenance operations, pilot training and procurement costs are shared among RAMP participants. (For example, one nation may house depot maintenance facilities, while another concentrates on pilot training – nations share these resources instead of building all required pieces from the ground-up.)

During a natural disaster such as hurricane relief efforts, these nations will be able to assist themselves and each other – responding together using common training and equipment. Once these professionals have the tools for success, they’ll unlock a host of sovereign options for their nation.

What would be the cost of inaction? If we were to allow these aircraft to deteriorate to a level where they’re unable to assist their citizens during a disaster, the USAF would become a surrogate Air Force for these nations. Partner nations have the skills and ability to assist themselves – in fact, many Latin American Air Forces are older than the US Air Force – but if we don’t work together to address issues today – these ‘cracks’ could turn into ‘fractures.’

Q: What soft power books are on your recommended reading list?


Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat
By Robin Higham and Stephen Harris
By looking at how Air Forces have failed, we can help to put in place programs to assist our partner nations to address issues today – averting future catastrophes.

Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World
By Joshua Kurlantzick
The United States is not the only nation employing Soft Power – understanding the Soft Power operations of other influential nations is prudent.

The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America’s Power and Purpose
By General Anthony Zinni
General Zinni argues that working together with our partner nations is key to America’s future success. I couldn’t agree more.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Seip: Yes. It’s important to understand Soft Power is not a ‘silver bullet.’ Smart Power, the timely and well thought out employment of Soft Power combined with a nation’s diplomatic, economic, political, private sector and non-governmental orgs, as well as military capabilities, is the means by which our nation will be successful in engaging with partner nations across the globe.

By using Smart Power, the United States can help to address the regional and global emerging challenges of the future – averting a potential crisis years in advance. The men and women of Air Forces Southern are excited to be a part of these initiatives….they’re making a positive difference in Central, South America and the Caribbean every day.

The U.S. Air Force is indeed making a difference and I sure hope their soft power budgets are increased dramatically. I am talking about adding several zeroes to the end of whatever they spend today.

I plan on blogging extensively about Soft Power on these pages in the coming months especially about New Horizons, Operation Southern Partner, and Continuing Promise. I am biased but I feel Seip’s responses to my questions on this new mission are so thorough that they are indeed worthy of inclusion in any and all soft power textbooks! 

My sincere thanks to Lt. Gen Seip and Captain Nathan Broshear of his staff for making this interview happen. I suspect Lt. Gen. Seip won’t be a stranger to USNI Blog.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | 1 Comment
2nd of a 3-part series

USNI Blog continues its talk with Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, USAF.

Operation Southern PArtner Group Photo

Operation Southern Partner Group Photo

Q: What is the Air Force’s relationship with the U.S. Public Health Service and NGO’s like Operation Smile and Project Hope?

Seip: AFSOUTH has a strong relationship with the US Public Health Service and with non-governmental organizations such as Project Hope. Last year, Air Force medical technicians accomplished more than 30 medical engagements across the region, partnering with a number of non-governmental organizations, local Ministries of Health and USPHS.

This year, we’re unveiling even more of these initiatives during medical engagements in Peru – the first-ever “RIVERINE” medical deployment – and Guyana during New Horizons 09. We’re also partnering with University of Arizona Medical School to ensure our missions have lasting and measurable impacts on local populations by tracking progress over several years and sharing medical studies with local health organizations.

In addition, our team will often transport donated school supplies and medical equipment on board USAF aircraft to ensure clinics and schools are outfitted with much-needed items (in accordance with applicable US law and DoD regulations). Working together with NGOs we’re ensuring our projects aren’t simply a hollow building – from day one they’re ready to support the community with all of the equipment and supplies needed to operate.

It’s very exciting to see how this cooperation between the public, private sector and military is taking shape – Col Scott Van Valkenburg, the AFSOUTH command surgeon, is pushing to include more of these NGOs and State Department organizations in our missions. The rationale is simple: together our efforts can have a profound, positive effect on the citizens we treat during our medical missions – it makes sense to partner with these organizations.

Q: What is the role of the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard in Soft Power?

Seip: The Total Force is already deeply involved. A large percentage of the Airmen who participate in our nation’s Soft Power missions are from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. Many of the Airmen on board the USNS Comfort were from the National Guard and Air Force Reserves, 50% of the aircraft and personnel participating in the NEWEN exercise were from Reserve units and dozens of the medical deployments in our area of focus are conducted by Guard and Reserve Airmen.

These professionals provide a wealth of knowledge and experience to enhance our team and benefit every operation – and their role is growing. A recent example is the signing of the State Partnership Program agreement between the Texas National Guard and the Chilean military. The ceremony will take place in April, opening the door for increased cooperation between Guard units in Texas and the Chilean military during exercises, exchanges, humanitarian response and training events. State National Guard Bureaus have had a long history of Soft Power initiatives with more than 20 agreements in the State Partnership Program in the USSOUTHCOM area of focus alone.

There’s even a full time Guard Colonel and Reserve Colonel on our staff to help us ensure we fully integrate these forces into our plans. Our command is so integrated with the Total Force that it’s not even a consideration – Airmen and equipment come from Active Duty, Guard and Reserve units on virtually every mission – I don’t even ask where a person comes from because, in my assessment, they’re all equally skilled and part of the team. The Total Force keeps achieving the AFSOUTH mission as the top priority.

Q: Is there a role for the Civil Air Patrol in soft power?

Seip: Sure. The Civil Air Patrol is a unique organization that shares a great synergy with Airmen. During domestic disaster response efforts, they’ve played a major role within the United States and I foresee they’ll likely expand these efforts. Many Americans are unaware of CAP’s heroic assistance to our nation during natural disasters, combating the flow of illicit drugs and securing our borders in cooperation with military and law enforcement organizations. The CAP has a breadth of experience and skill set that perfectly aligns with our nation’s Soft Power objectives so I see their role continuing to increase. I’d welcome the CAP on any of our missions!

Q: What were some of your lessons learned from last year’s Operation Southern Partner?

Seip: The first iteration of Operation Southern Partner was incredibly successful. We learned a lot about how to execute this mission from a logistical standpoint. Anytime you’re deploying more than 80 Airmen from 25 different career fields to four countries in two weeks, there are challenges.

More importantly, USAF Airmen learned from partner nation Airmen through the sharing of ideas, tactics, techniques and procedures. We never claim to bring all the answers to the table; instead we come to the table with a mindset of “What can I learn from the Airman seated across from me?”

If you are interested in learning more about Operation Southern Partner, click here.

The final installment of my interview with Lt. Gen. Seip continues tomorrow.

1st of a 3-part series

In a USNI Blog exclusive, I recently interviewed Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, Twelfth Air Force and Air Forces Southern Commander, on the USAF’s role in Soft Power. Seip is a passionate and inspirational leader and these traits will serve him and our nation well as the 12th Air Force “builds, enhance, and strengthen partnerships…” 

As you will see by our interview, the USAF is doing some great things in regards to Soft Power. Today’s post focuses on some general background information on soft power as well as funding issues.

Q: What is the U.S. Air Force’s definition of soft power?

Seip: Traditionally, Soft Power has been defined as the courses of action one nation uses (political measures, foreign policy, exportation of cultural values, etc) to influence or persuade another party to cooperate or adopt similar values. But I believe this is too narrow a definition, and that “influence” should never be part of the Soft Power

As I stated in Small Wars Journal, Air Forces Southern is zeroed in on Soft Power because of our area of focus; Central, South America and the Caribbean. Our objective is to promote security, enhance stability and enable partnerships across the Americas. Countering narcoterrorism, promoting human rights and providing humanitarian assistance to partner nations are some examples of Soft Power in action.

Q: What are some of the resources the U.S. Air Force has that can provide soft power?

Seip: Obviously the first resource people think of when the Air Force is involved is airpower….be it airlift, search and rescue or combat forces, the Air Force has a full array of airpower options to assist in Soft Power operations, but our most important resource is our Airmen….Officer, Enlisted, Active, Guard, Reserve and Civilians that make up our Total Force Team. I like to say that we build, enhance and strengthen partnerships with partner nation Air Forces ‘one Airman at a time.’

Although the notion is to first think of military hardware in relation to what the Air Force brings to the table, I prefer to think of Airmen as the key enabler in Soft Power operations. Airmen build bridges, both figuratively and literally, and are the most important part of making a Soft Power initiative successful. At any given time, more than 1,000 US Airmen are deployed in the AFSOUTH area of focus, working alongside other military members and in local communities to assist partner nations during dozens of training, outreach and infrastructure operations.

Airmen provide expertise, innovation, and a high degree of professionalism to every operation they’re involved. Whether it’s flying, engineering, maintenance, environmental, medical, rescue, chaplains, scientists or communicators, Airmen have a wealth of knowledge to share with partner nations. The personal relationships built between military members during Soft Power operations are integral to future military cooperation. When we send a team to assist a partner nation, it’s the spirit of the American Airman that I want people to remember.

Q: Do opportunities exist for the USAF to increase its role in Soft Power? If so, are they funded? If they are not funded, what soft power initiatives are on your unfunded programs list?

Seip: There’s always room for more resources – I run out of dollars long before I run out of opportunities to employ Soft Power initiatives in our AOF. I firmly believe that our great Air Force will participate in even more Soft Power initiatives in the near future.

Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have taught our up-and-coming commanders that firepower isn’t always the most effective means of solving problems. These leaders are bringing this mindset to every command they join; sharing ideas for Soft Power programs that may have helped citizens in the Horn of Africa or Afghanistan and applying them to their new assignments. The Air Force’s global reach and airlift capacity makes us the ‘go-to’ provider during natural disasters, humanitarian assistance and the like.

Money isn’t always the issue – many programs don’t cost a lot, but pay huge dividends to participants. For example: legal exchanges between Air Force JAGs and lawyers in Latin America help to reinforce the rule of law; allowing partner nation Airmen to attend an NCO Academy or Squadron Officer School in the United States increases the professionalization of their corps; deployed Airmen cleaning up a reef near their forward operating location benefits locals and tourists alike; and environmental experts sharing inspection techniques with partner nations can help prevent future pollution. These are some examples of low-cost Soft Power initiatives we’ve found to be very beneficial to our partner nations – in the case of Soft Power, creativity is often more important than a big budget.

While I can’t speak for every command, in AFSOUTH we’ve been particularly fortunate in that military and civilian leadership understand the value and importance in funding Soft Power initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, just six short months ago AFSOUTH received funds directly from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force to execute Operation Southern Partner, the first-ever regionally focused subject matter exchange of its kind. The event proved so successful that our team is planning the next iteration to take place in June and again in the fall. This bi-annual event is focused on providing partner nation Air Forces with subject matter experts in areas they identify as value-added for their Air Forces. USAF members benefit by finding new perspectives on their career specialty and new ways of approaching problems common to Airmen.

For example, during medical exchanges in Chile and Uruguay, doctors from Wilford Hall shared trauma medicine techniques from their past deployments to Balad Air Base, Iraq. During the exchange, the American doctors also learned from their counterparts about new techniques in dealing with heart disease and emergency care. The American doctors were able to take these findings home with them and into their emergency rooms.
That’s success – effective Soft Power initiatives are two-way – we’re learning together with our partners.

Jim, this is only one example. I hope you can join us during the next Operation Southern Partner – to see for yourself Soft Power in action!

As for unfunded programs, our command is very fortunate to have Admiral Stavridis, the USSOUTHCOM commander, leading the Soft Power charge. If we’ve got an idea that might help benefit partner nations in the USSOUTHCOM area of focus, he works hard to find a way to fund these missions. I encourage our team to think of new and innovative programs to share across the region, and we haven’t turned down a good idea due to lack of money.

My interview with Lt. Gen. Seip continues tomorrow. Havy any questions on the interview so far? If so, please post them in the comments section.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | 2 Comments

I just finished reading The Soft Side of Airpower by Major John W. Bellflower, Small Wars Journal, and I have to say the Air Force appears to be putting a bit more thought into who they are and what they can do, at least in regards to what is being said publicly. This sample sets the stage for a very interesting article.

Contrary to the advice of General Lorenz and Secretary Wynne, most articles discussing the employment of airpower in irregular warfare often adhere to a myopic view of airpower that considers only what airpower can do to the enemy. Although these articles do indeed discuss such operational functions as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) or airlift, they typically do so only in the context of putting steel on target or assisting ground forces in doing the same. This enemy-centric focus causes many airpower advocates to champion the lethal application of airpower to the near exclusion of its non-lethal aspects. Indeed, this enemy-centric airpower focus has also infected Army thinking as its new counterinsurgency manual devotes merely a single sentence to population-centric airpower. However, the focus in irregular warfare is typically on influencing the population rather than destroying the military capability of the enemy. Certainly irregular warfare will sometimes require killing bad guys, but tailoring the airpower effort to the people would demonstrate that airpower offers much more to the irregular warfare fight – much that is typically ignored.

It is an article worth checking out. The Air Force Live blog apparently enjoyed the article too, the graphic above was posted by Captain Faggard in response to commentary on the article. I think the graphic is interesting too, a reminder that history is a great place to start when building discussions of strategic vision looking into the future.

While I find the content of Major Bellflower’s article stimulating on its own, what I am really finding interesting is the new found interest by the Air Force to tell a broader story. Air Mobility Command has long been involved in supporting humanitarian operations, by itself there is nothing new about it. What is new though is that someone in the Air Force is finally proud enough of these efforts to highlight it, and proclaim it as important enough to tell as a narrative. On the internet, that is VERY new.

A few examples. We never heard anything about the humanitarian response the US Air Force was involved in regarding the earthquake in China. It wasn’t small, or trivial. Same for the Cyclone off Myanmar. Same for the response in Georgia. Any details you know about Air Force involvement in those operations came straight from the mainstream media, and it consisted almost entirely of statistics. Could we be on the verge of learning what the Air Force is doing in global operations other than a statistical total? Does the Air Force have an actual story behind the statistics? We appear to be moving that direction.

We all know the USCGC Dallas (WHEC-716) went to Georgia to deliver humanitarian aid, and that the Navy had several ships off the coast of Myanmar ready to assist, and that Admiral Keating went to China to see the devestating effects of the earthquake in China. Why did we know about these things? Because the Navy and Coast Guard are proud of their soft power efforts. It will be interesting to observe whether the Air Force’s new found desire to tell ‘the rest of their story’ regarding their global operations has any long term influence regarding the perception of the Air Force, much of which isn’t generally very positive in the Web 2.0 space.

Posted by galrahn in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Last week, Denmark the Netherlands announced that the amphibious transport ship HNLMS Johan de Witt will participate in Africa Partnership Station. The two month deployment is the Dutch Navy’s first major soft-power cruise. The deployment of the Johan de Witt demonstrates the growing Dutch interest in soft-power. But why?

Part of it has to do will the increasing acceptance of soft-power as a useful tool in international relations. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates argued as such two years ago and I whole-heartedly agree. However, there is likely another reason: soft-power cruises give navies missions for their ships.

The last eight years of war have been, apart from combat air support, sealift, and small maritime security operations, land-based affairs. As such, the US Navy played only a limited, supporting role in both conflicts. In Europe, national security threats are even more remote and European navies have few reasons to justify maintaining expensive blue-water fleets. Enter soft-power.

The possible benefits of soft-power cruises are numerous, but during the USS Nashville’s mission to West Africa, Captain Cindy Thebaud stated “the indicators [of success] will be long-term, not near-term”. In other words, soft-power is important, but impossible to measure. Thus, soft-power provides politicians and naval leaders with both a politically acceptable mission justifying naval budgets and a mission not accountable for effectiveness.

I am a strong supporter of soft-power, particularly using naval assets. There are significant diplomatic and stability benefits to US armed forces providing services and training after disasters and in marginalized regions. But, soft-power mission effectiveness is measurable. If our goal is to develop soft-power into an meaningful tool of foreign relations, then missions must be evaluated on useful metrics.


In the wake of Hassan Rowhani’s landslide victory as Iran’s new president, some foreign policy mavens now believe that Rowhani’s presidency may augur a positive shift in Iran’s hitherto hostile policy towards the West. However, despite a glimmer of hope that Rowhani’s election may translate into moderate policies towards the West, others have “adopted a cautious ‘wait-and-see’ posture,” citing Rowhani’s past affiliation with the Ayatollah.

For East Asian experts, Rowhani’s election warrants attention because it remains to be seen whether Iran will retain its current alliance with Kim Jŏng-ŭn even if it chooses to reconcile with the West. After all, some have alleged that Iran has played a major role in the DPRK’s successful testing of its Ŭnha-3 rocket last December. More importantly, Rowhani’s future stance towards the West deserves attention because it may determine whether or not the United States must revise its strategy to adapt to new geostrategic realities. Indeed, it can be argued that the aforementioned factors are not mutually exclusive but intricately intertwined.

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